The government and other stakeholders are working on a public food procurement policy to regulate the procurement of foodstuffs by state institutions.
The policy, which will serve as a guide to entities that procure foodstuffs for government institutions using state resources, is meant to curb the consumption of unhealthy foods in the country.
A professor of public health and nutrition at the University of Ghana, Prof. Amos Laar, who revealed this, said the policy was part of a gamut of regulatory regimes being explored to protect Ghanaians from eating unhealthy food.
Prof. Laar said when implemented, the policy would ensure that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and other state institutions that used state resources procured foodstuffs that were deemed healthy for consumption.
“If you take school feeding, for instance, the policy will guide them on the kind of food to procure.
Also, if you go to our hospitals, food procurement is done in hospital administration and the policy can dictate what kind of food to be procured,” he said.
When asked what time the policy would be ready, he said: “We need the policy as soon as possible, but we know that they are developed by government sectors, so it may take months or a year.”
He disclosed this in an interview with the Daily Graphic after delivering the 2023 Annual Lecture in the Sciences at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) in Accra last Thursday.
The lecture was on the topic, “Food and Public Health: If it is not safe, it is not food; and if it is not healthy, it is not good food — unpacking current consensus and tensions in the food and public health nutrition landscape.”
The lecture, which centred on the link between food and public health, teased out the problematic conceptualisation of food, focusing more on food as a commodity.
Prof. Laar underscored the need for the government to fast-track the process of designing a comprehensive policy to regulate the production, marketing and consumption of unhealthy foods in the country.
He said the timeous formulation of such a policy would minimise the manufacture, marketing and consumption of ultra-processed foods which had dire health consequences.
Ultra-processed foods have additives, preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, artificial colours and flavours, which pose health risks.
Prof. Laar said although health sector institutions, academia and other experts were working on some policies that sought to restrict the availability of those unhealthy food and also incentivise the consumption of healthy food, the process needed to be accelerated.
“We need not just a single policy but a mix of multiple policies that seek to inform and empower consumers to know what they are eating.
We also need a mix of those policies to help improve our food environment and therefore, avail healthy diet to us as Ghanaians,” he said.
He stressed that once food was commodified, it was seen by industry players as an object instead of food, and that was problematic.
He said that situation was also problematic because it accounted for the manufacture and sale of food that was unhealthy.
Prof. Laar said one of the areas that needed policy attention to help address the phenomenon of unhealthy food was a robust labelling regime that made it easy for members of the public to identify heathy food items.
He said the current labelling system was problematic because food products were labelled in a way that did not benefit most Ghanaians.
“The labelling is in English and many people cannot read and write.
Those who can read and write may not be interested in reading, and if they are interested, the text is such that you will need a magnifying glass to benefit from them,” he said.
The public health professor said it was important for the government to use a policy to roll out a labelling regime that would fit the local context and benefit both literates and illiterates.
“When images are used to tag food as to whether they are good or not, the population will learn to understand that these foods are safe,” he said.
Prof. Laar also said it was important for all stakeholders to collaborate to regulate the advertising and promotion of food items to reduce the consumption of unhealthy foods.
“We need marketing policies that can say that, given that this food is not healthy, it is not going to be allowed to be advertised on television, newspapers and other mass media at certain hours or near schools,” he said.